Elles | Movie Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Screen » Movie Reviews + Features

Elles

A journalist working on a story about prostitution is the catalyst for exploring sex and power in this French drama

by

comment

Anne (Juliette Binoche, in fine form) is a Parisian journalist, working on a story about two college students who moonlight as prostitutes. Each is attracted to the money — one girl is from the housing projects, the other is a Polish immigrant. But in their interviews, the two also claim agency and profess to not mind the unsavory aspects of the work. Less so Anne, who as the project progresses seems to grow increasingly unmoored from her comfortable role as a bourgeois wife and mother.

Some of the film's events occur over one day, while Anne is writing her story and preparing a dinner party for her husband's boss. Some scenes depict Anne's interviews with the students; still others portray the students' lives, and it's not clear whether this material is part of what was shared with Anne or viewing it is our privilege. (One scene, involving a sexual assault, suggests the latter, since Anne's interviews never raise this darker aspect of sex work.)

Malgorzata Szumowska's film flirts with a documentary style. But the underlying narrative — in which examining the role prostitutes play causes a catharsis in another woman — is less a realistic scenario than an artificial framework on which to hang and stretch various themes, such as sex, power, money, family and socially proscribed role-playing.

Szumowska's work seems intentionally open to interpretation: Does she include explicit sex scenes to honestly depict the trade, or simply to titillate? How reliable are the girls as narrators when talking to a journalist, especially one considerably older and more socio-economically privileged? Anne's own reactions to the project are similarly varied, ranging from empowered, disgusted, and aroused to angry. And the conclusions to the three women's stories are open-ended, leaving us aware of their choices but not sure of their decisions. It's a film I would expect to generate plenty of discussion and, perhaps, no shortage of differing opinions on its intent and worth.

Add a comment